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The RAF Benevolent Fund gets Red Arrow Mike back in the air after horror crash

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 August 2019

Former Red Arrow pilot Mike Ling. Picture: RAF Benevolent Fund

Former Red Arrow pilot Mike Ling. Picture: RAF Benevolent Fund

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Miracle Red Arrows pilot Mike Ling escaped a horror crash with his life and is now back in the air raising cash for the organisation that gave him hope.

All that was left of Mike's Red Arrow after the crash in Crete. Picture: RAF Benevolent FundAll that was left of Mike's Red Arrow after the crash in Crete. Picture: RAF Benevolent Fund

As the Biggin Hill Airshow arrives, Mike - who grew up in Biggin Hill - said he is the Red Arrows' longest serving pilot at 10 years and more than flying 1,700 hours.

After a near fatal crash in Crete in 2010, he was supported by the RAF Benevolent Fund.

His Hawk was involved in a mid-air collision. He spent weeks in hospital, with injuries including badly damaged legs, arms, substantial burns, a dislocated shoulder, lacerations on his face and damaged lungs.

As his body slowly repaired itself, Mike knew he needed help, and the Benevolent Fund helped out with a motorised wheelchair.

Mike was left seriously hurt in the accident, but with the help of the RAF Benevolent Fund was eventially back in the cockpit once more. Picture: RAF Benevolent FundMike was left seriously hurt in the accident, but with the help of the RAF Benevolent Fund was eventially back in the cockpit once more. Picture: RAF Benevolent Fund

Today, Squadron Leader Mike is back and flying but retired from the RAF this year after 21 years' service. He is an aerobatic pilot with the Blades, which supports the RAF Benevolent Fund.

The fund recently launched its Join the Search. Change a Life. campaign, which aims to get the public finding and referring more veterans for support.

Last year, the fund helped more than 580 people in the South East spending more than £2.6million and needs public help to double that number.

He said he first knew he wanted to fly with the Red Arrows when he was at the Biggin Hill Air Fair in 1982.

He said: "My mum says I was in awe.

"I was 19 when I joined the Royal Air Force. Following operational tours with the Tornado F3, I had the best time in the world with the Reds, not just because it was a lot of fun, but because there was immense pride in being able to represent my country."

But that all changed in March 2010 during practice in Crete.

Mike said: "I was on my second trip out on day two, leading the Synchro Pair with David Montenegro when my accident happened.

"I remember us hitting and I remember, vividly, making the decision to eject from the aircraft.

"I remember the force of the ejection, but I got knocked out just after that moment. I remember coming to with the awful noise of a fire raging behind me - my crashed jet.

"The first thing I could see was that the watch on my wrist seemed like miles away from where I lay, and I remember thinking I'd lost my arm."

The squadron leader said: "The ambulance drove for an hour to the hospital. I was strapped to a spinal board as there were worries that I had broken my back. At that point I was concerned that I'd never be able to fly fast jets again."

Days in the island hospital were followed by almost a month at Birmingham and then on to specialist unit Headley Court.

He said: "Due to the extent of my injuries, I was confined to a wheelchair, but I felt so lucky - I had all my limbs and my life, so I had everything to be grateful for.

"It was then that the RAF Benevolent Fund came into the picture. Although I was thankful to have my life, the wheelchair I was in wasn't ideal. Not being able to use one arm and both legs, I couldn't move freely.

"The fund stepped in to help, providing me with a powered wheelchair for the remainder of my recovery.

"It sounds like such a small thing I know, but it made the world of difference. Having that ability to do things for myself was amazing, it gave me that extra level of independence - it made a huge difference to my confidence and to my freedom."

He added: "With the Blades, a display team of former Red Arrow pilots, I realise I would not be here without the Fund."

The Biggin Hill Festival of Flight is on August 17 and 18.

To donate and gives others the chance of a fresh life, visit https://www.rafbf.org/ways-to-give

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